· Features

How Nationwide learns from (and helps) start-ups

?Increasingly HRDs in larger, more traditional, established organisations are working with start-ups through incubator activities at their companies

While start-ups benefit from help in formalising HR and other aspects of their businesses, the relationship also presents a golden opportunity for big businesses to learn from fleet-of-foot newcomers.

Nationwide’s chief people officer, Jane Hanson, explains how this works at the UK’s largest building society.

“Nationwide has been working with start-ups who are at the forefront of using the latest technology, which could provide real benefit to our members and society in general.

"We do this in a number of ways; we have directly invested in nine start-ups via our Venturing Fund, and our Open Banking for Good (OB4G) challenge has been driving innovation through incubator activity. Our approach to working with start-ups is anchored in our founding principle of mutuality.

“Through OB4G we have been working with partners including Openwrks, Ducit.ai, Trezeo, Toucan and Tully, in a collaboration space in London to build apps and services to help financially vulnerable people. By focusing on collaboration rather than competition, the challenge is helping to focus the drive for innovation in the mutual spirit of solving real-world problems.

“With our Venturing Fund we often invest at a very early stage, where HR functions are still evolving and tasks like recruitment are done by the founding team. With recruitment often a key area of focus for the start-ups, Nationwide has at times acted as an advisor to some, providing guidance on job specifications, advertising roles and meeting candidates.

“We currently have a Nationwide employee on secondment with one of the start-ups we have invested in. Being immersed in another culture and operating model contributes to the way we evolve the support we provide to start-ups.

“As is the nature of collaboration, bringing together two cultures is perhaps the most challenging aspect. One is large and well-established, the other is very young and agile. Managing the expectations of both parties is a difficult balance to strike. Neither model is necessarily better than the other and a good mix of the two often leads to the best outcomes and ways of working that deliver mutual success. Two start-ups are never the same.

“Nationwide colleagues must put themselves into the frame of mind of the start-up and understand the key areas of focus that are essential for that start-up. Often the key to success is empathy and for both parties to really understand the needs of the other, while remaining true to their values as a business.

“Working with start-ups helps us to genuinely challenge the way we do things and to think more clearly about our ability to work at pace. Importantly it also helps bring into focus the areas we thrive in and how, even as a large organisation, the people-first approach we adopt makes us different from our competitors.”

This piece appeared in the January 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

Further reading

The need for HR expertise at start-ups